How can we protect Salem's historic neighborhoods?
Only a small percentage of Salem’s historic neighborhoods are protected by Local Historic Districts, which can prevent demolition and regulate exterior changes to buildings. The districts that currently exist protect only 600 of Salem's 4000 historic buildings and there have been no new districts or expansions since the early 1980s. Expansion or establishment of new districts is suggested in the City’s Preservation Plan (2015) with many neighborhoods identified that could benefit from some further level of protection.
What is a Local Historic District?
How can I protect my neighborhood?
A Local Historic District (LHD)is an entire area or group of historic structures deemed significant to the city's cultural fabric that are protected by public review. This can include downtown commercial areas, main streets, waterfront or residential districts. (1) A local historic district is the strongest available regulation to protect a building or neighborhood.
Cities are empowered to create Local Historic Districts under MA General Law Chapter 40C. Salem's current LHDs are administered by the Salem Historical Commission. Property owners making changes to the exterior of their building must get an approval from the Historical Commission, usually by attending a twice monthly public meeting and working with the commission on the details of the proposed project. The Salem Historical Commission members strives to be supportive and provide expert advice on the projects they review.
What benefit does a Local Historic District provide?
Regulations that protect buildings and neighborhoods are beneficial for homeowners and the community as a whole because these districts provide a sense of certainty about future development. The result is a stabilization of property values and protection of investments by ensuring that adjacent properties are cared for at a similar level and that any change maintains or improves the buildings.
The National Trust has a great list of the benefits of a Local Historic District.
Historic districts encourage communities to retain and use their existing resources in established neighborhoods. Reuse of buildings eliminates landfill waste. Reuse of older buildings takes advantage of existing, walk-able neighborhoods and many older buildings were designed with energy conservation in mind, taking advantage of natural light, cross-ventilation, and climate-appropriate materials.
The process of establishing historic protections creates intangible benefits including strengthening neighborhood identity, encouraging social cohesion and creation of social capital. These benefits can not be quantified, yet they are an invaluable asset in community building.
Historic preservation is a tool for strengthening American communities. It has been used to achieve a wide range of public goals including:
promoting arts and culture,
Preservation of our historic neighborhoods is a key element in continuing the success of Salem as an appealing place to live.
While Historic Salem and City of Salem planning staff can be useful partners in establishing LHD protections it is essential that there is interest within the neighborhood. We are actively looking for neighborhood groups, or just groups of neighbors, that we can partner with to start the exploring what a LHD would mean. What would the boundaries be? Will it have the desired impact? Is there neighborhood support? Would it be better to extend boundaries of an existing district or create a new one? These conversations should include ward councillors and any other interested individuals. The Massachusetts Historical Commission is an important partner in this process and we hope to invite a representative to Salem to discuss Local Historic Districts in the coming months..
Please fill out the contact form below if you'd like us to come speak to your neighbors about the benefits of a Local Historic District.
If you would like to share information with your neighbors you can print or forward our informational brochure - Protecting Historic Neighborhoods in Salem, Massachusetts
The official start of the process involves forming a study committee, through the Salem Historical Commission and in concert with the city council, that will commission a report on the architectural and historical significance of the buildings to be included in the district. This report will be reviewed by the Planning Board and by the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC), who can consult with other city planning officials and provide comment. A public hearing will be held, with notification to all property owners in the proposed boundaries. Once final, the report will be submitted to the City Council and approved by a 2/3 majority vote.
The MA Historical Commission has a useful and thorough document that describes the process. Read it here: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/mhc/mhcpdf/establishinglocalhistoricdistricts.pdf
What about National Register Districts?
The Federal government can also designate neighborhoods significant. These neighborhoods are called National Register Historic Districts and there are 12 in Salem. This designation is an honor, but carry no regulatory protections. This is because use regulations are generally applied via local ordinance, not state or national ordinance. That said, we encourage residents proud of their neighborhood to pursue National Register Historic District nomination and are happy to assist in this effort. The most recently designated National Register districts in Salem are the Point Neighborhood and Bridge Street Neck Neighborhood.
View a map of Salem's National Register Historic Districts.
Read MHC's brochure describing the difference between a Local and National Historic District.
Other Preservation Tools...
Demolition Delay Ordinance
Historic Salem is advocating for strengthening the existing Demolition Delay Ordinance that requires a waiting period before historic buildings can be demolished - More on this to come!
Neighborhood Preservation Districts
This tool is not part of Salem's zoning ordinance but has been studied in Salem (read the study here). More on this to come!
Read our brochure comparing LHDs to NPDs